Scripture Reading: John 15:1-11
We continue this morning looking at the importance of prayer in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ and children of our amazing God.
Two weeks ago we looked at why it is we pray. Last week we looked at how we pray, and the importance of praying from the heart. Today we look at the power of prayer in our lives, not just as individuals, but as a community of faith who gather in this church seeking to be closer to God.
There have been a great number of studies performed on the effects of isolation on people’s lives.
A professor by the name of Andrew Steptoe studied 6,500 British people over the age of 52 for a period of 8 years. He found that those who were the most socially isolated during his study were 26% more likely to die than those who had the most socially active lives.(http://www.pnas.org/content/110/15/5797.abstract)
Another study has shown that isolation in mice caused increased tumour growth. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090929133115.htm)
Yet another study has shown that the brains of lonely people react differently than those who have strong social networks around them. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090215151800.htm)
Scientists have spent decades studying the effects of loneliness and isolation on people. The results are all negative.
From premature death, to rewired brains, increased tumour growth, and many other findings show that it’s not good to be socially isolated.
Now, I’m not saying you need to be with people every waking moment of the day. Goodness no. We all need our time to be alone once in a while, and for some of us that amount of required alone time is higher than others.
These studies indicate that extreme isolation, spending day after day, week after week, completely alone is not healthy. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Without good human interaction, a person can certainly feel alone and start to feel down about themselves.
Now sure we have things like Facebook. But that cannot fill the void of true face-to-face communication. It can’t even replace the telephone. Being with, and seeing other people can be a huge pick-me-up.
Think about funerals for a moment. It’s the interaction at a wake or a reception, where we can share in our sorrow and laugh at some stories, which, in some strange way, makes us feel better.
It’s true! I see it all the time. I can see a family be completely destroyed by the loss of a loved one, but put them in a room full of caring people, their attitude changes. They do feel better. Sure it still hurts, but the sting is a little less painful when you know there’s a group of people who are willing to walk with you through a tough time.
So when we look at our scripture reading from the Gospel of John this morning, we see Jesus talking about a branch and it’s ability to live, or not, when it is separated from the tree.
Jesus likens this to our connection to him.
If we see God as the giver of all life, and we acknowledge Jesus as His Son, then why would we want to be apart from Him?
I love how John 15 starts,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)
Do we believe Jesus as the perfect Son of God? You bet we do. But what does Jesus say in these verses?
Jesus says that even he needs to have some dead branches removed once in a while? Wow!
Jesus, the perfect Son of God, needs guidance and direction from his Father. Even Jesus needs it!
So if Jesus appears to need an occasional cleaning up, then what chance do we have if we try to go it alone without God’s presence in our lives?
In verse 3 Jesus says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.”
So there’s our starting point: the words of Jesus cleanses us.
What does he say next? Let’s look at verses 4 and 5.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
There’s a two-fold approach as to how this manifests itself in our lives. We just heard we need to abide in Jesus. We need to live in him.
First we need to know him. We need to know about Jesus and his teachings. So we start in the place where we can find him. We pick up our Bibles and learn about him.
We read about what he did.
We read about how he changed the lives of people he met.
We read about how he wants us to live.
We read about how he impacted people after his death and resurrection, about how he appeared to people.
We read about how his life impacted the lives of people for decades after he ascended to be with his Father in heaven.
It is in the Bible where we encounter his words. His words which can have a great impact on how we live as we see how he lived his life, and how he invites us to live our own.
That’s the first step. Picking up our Bibles and getting to know Jesus.
The second step is to abide in Jesus. To live in him. Jesus tells us we cannot produce fruit, that is we cannot live the life he asks us to live, unless we abide in him.
Like the branch cut off from the vine, we too will whither when we do not remain attached to Jesus. He invites us to abide in him, and in return he says he will abide in us, he will live in us. Together, with the cleansing words of Jesus and allowing him to live in us, Jesus says we will produce much fruit.
So if the first step is to pick up our Bibles and read, then the second step is to get as close to Jesus as we can. And to do that, we need to pray.
We need to pray for the weak branches of our lives to be removed. We need to pray that we will be pruned so we can produce more fruit.
If Jesus needed it, then we most certainly need it.
What branches do we need to remove? Sometimes it’s pretty obvious. When you look at a tree and see a dead, lifeless limb, you know it needs to be removed.
But sometimes there are branches which appear to show life, yet nothing ever grows on them. They may look healthy, but underneath could be a fungus or insect which is causing the fruit to be bad, or not grow at all. We may not be able to see the fungus, but it’s there, killing the branch without us even knowing.
It might require us bringing in an expert to look at our tree to find out what’s wrong with it. The expert can look at our tree and tell us what further branches need to be removed so our tree can be healthy and produce our much desired fruit.
Prayer can do the same thing for us. We can ask Jesus to take a good, hard look at our lives and tell us what it is we need to remove so we can grow and flourish. He could ask us to remove a branch we think is good and healthy, but in reality it’s slowly poisoning us.
We need to ask God to point these things out to us in prayer.
And when He does this, when He asks us to give up something we think is good, we need to remember we are being cared for so that we can produce greater, healthier fruit.
Some of you, I know, love to garden, so this should be making sense to you. I’m not a gardener, and I think it makes to me, so I hope it makes sense to all of you as well.
God is the gardener who cares for the whole plant. He trims. He breaks off. He feeds. He prunes. He waters. He makes sure the plant is healthy and producing good fruit.
Jesus is the vine. He is the backbone of the whole plant. He is the one who provides the nutrients from the gardener to the branches which hang off the vine.
If you remove one of those branches, it may continue to live for a little while, but eventually it will wither and die because of it’s isolation from the rest of the plant.
We are those branches. We need a continuous connection with the vine. We need to be cared for by the gardener. We cannot live on our own.
If we want to call ourselves Christians, then we need to be connected to the one who gives us life; The one who inspires us, guides us, and even protects us.
When we gather here in this church, we are being cared for. We are being watered and pruned. We are doing it all together.
Here we listen to the words of Jesus.
Here we let God speak to us.
Here we confess our wrongdoings and seek healing and forgiveness.
Coming here to church we gather with one another for mutual support and care in our faith journey. Going back to the studies I mentioned around isolation, coming here keeps us in contact with others who have the same desires for a deep relationship with God.
To stretch out the gardening imagery, possibly to it’s limit, I suppose in a way we could call this the greenhouse. It’s the place where we can be safe from the elements which seek to harm us as we grow. And once we’ve reached a level of maturity, we are able to go out and be beautiful plants in a world which needs more beauty.
We come to the church to learn more about Jesus. We come here to grow in our understanding of what it means to be a child of God. And we come to learn how to use the ancient practices of prayer and contemplation to grow even more in our faith. We do it all in the company of one another who seek to grow as a community and work together to discern a greater plan for our church and the streets we call home.
Prayer is not just a solitary act. I’ve mentioned this before. We grow as a community when we pray together. We learn from each other and our hearts are brought together seeking direction and protection from our Father.
In fact, I’d be willing to say that our prayers here are very important in helping us form our own personal prayer life. What we learn, what we hear, what we experience as a community in prayer helps form the prayers we share in the secret of our own prayer times with God.
Corporate prayer, the prayers of the church together, are vitally important in our faith development. Each week we pray for the concerns of our hearts, and we also seek to spend time in silence to pray from our own hearts.
We can take these practices back to our homes and pray there.
We can go home to our own prayer times, sit with our Bibles and read the word; to be inspired, to be directed, and to gather focus as we enter into our own prayer times. We need this time to connect with our source of life. We need to take the time to feed off of the vine to gather strength for what each day will bring us.
God is the source of life. Jesus is the one who holds us to the source. He is the connection, he is the glue that holds us all together.
Jesus said we can bear good fruit. This seems to be a good time to look at what might be considered good fruit, according to the Bible.
In Galatians 5, Paul is writing to the church and he says this,
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
Do you want to bear good fruit in the name of Jesus Christ? Be those things. Be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and practice self-control.
When you think about it, these fall in line with what Jesus calls the greatest commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.
If you love God and you love your neighbours, then you will most certainly be loving, kind, peaceful, patient, all those things Paul listed for the church in his letter.
If we struggle with these fruits of the Spirit, then we need to go to God and ask Him to help us do these things. Here is where He can help remove the barriers, to take off those sick branches and allow us to grow to be more full and healthy.
It can begin with just a simple question as we pray.
We can ask God, “What do I need to subtract from my life so that you can add?”
This is part of the pruning process. I would also say this is an important question we need to ask ourselves as a church!
I was reading about a megachurch in the United States a while back. This church had a dramatic change in focus which, according to the general “rules” about running a megachurch, should have caused it to collapse.
But it didn’t. In fact the church grew even more. What did they do? They decided to remove all programs which were not tied to it’s primary vision. This church used to have sport leagues, it had programs for about every slice of life you could imagine. It had staff coming out of its ears.
They bought into the myth that busy was better.
But instead they dropped a lot of those programs because they weren’t helping people grow closer to God. Once the church decided they needed to focus on the spiritual growth and discipleship of it’s membership, that’s when lives really began to change.
What does Jesus want from our church?
In simple terms, he wants us to be faithful. He wants us to be his disciples. He wants us to grow our faith and to help others grow their faith too.
How do we it?
We do the things he’s asked us to do. To be cleansed by his word and to abide in him so he can abide in us.
Jesus wants to share our lives with us. And he wants us to share those fruits of the Spirit with others; love, joy, peace, faithfulness, all those things from Galatians 5.
If we commit to becoming a church and a people of prayer, we will grow wonderful fruit. People will see Jesus in us and in our church, and they will want to share in our harvest. They will want to grow fruit too.
So let us be a people of prayer, let us be people seeking Jesus in our lives as we seek to live in him.
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus, we want to know you more. We want you to live in our hearts so that every day we hear your voice guiding, leading and protecting us. Help us to be more fruitful. Help us to grow in love, joy, peace, faithfulness, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control. Help us to commit to a life of prayer where will be grow this great fruit and be able to share it with others. Help us to hear you and grow in you. This we ask in your holy name. Amen.